Transitioning to College: Academics

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    There are a lot of moving parts once a student with hydrocephalus commits to a college and moves on to requesting accommodations (for those that need them), honing their self-advocacy skills, and preparing to navigate their health and wellness needs independently.

    Accommodations Process

    Once you have committed, you can start the formal process to request accommodations. This usually begins with the student contacting the Disability Support Office (DSO) and letting them know that they have committed and they would like to start the process to request accommodations. Do this shortly after you have been accepted as some deadlines, such as housing accommodations, are in the spring, around early May.

    Intake Form: Some colleges will have you complete an intake form. This form typically asks what disability(s) the student has, how those disabilities may impact them, the types of accommodations that they may have received in high school, and the types of accommodations they are requesting in college. Typically, the DSO will use this intake form to inform a follow-up meeting with the student.

    Meeting: The DSO will engage you in the “interactive process,” by setting up a phone/video/in-person meeting to discuss your needs and accommodation requests. You will need to prepare and possibly rehearse to get comfortable discussing your disability(s) and needs. This is an area where having strong self-advocacy skills really comes into play. You should have a list of the types of accommodations you are requesting and a list of questions that you may have for the DSO. Visit our article Differences between High School and College Accommodations for examples of accommodations and the self-advocacy skills you will need.

    Documentation: Each college has their own documentation guidelines. Students should ask the DSO what type of documentation is required to support accommodations for their disabilities. Typically, for a health condition like hydrocephalus, the college would ask for a letter from the student’s healthcare provider. This may not be your neurosurgeon, particularly if you see medical specialists for other conditions. This could be your pediatrician, neurosurgeon, neurologist, or neuropsychologist – choose the provider who best knows your entire medical history and support needs in college. The letter needs to be on letterhead and outline the following items:

      • Diagnosis (primary and comorbidities)
      • Medication
      • Functional limitation(s)
      • Recommended accommodations

    If the student has multiple disabilities, they may need to submit different types of documentation. Here are some examples of documentation guidelines:

    If you have a letter from your healthcare provider that has all of the elements the college requires, but was written while you were in high school, or for something else, you can submit that documentation and the DSO will let you know if it meets the requirements, or if you need more information.

    If you have a diagnosed learning disability, you most likely will need to provide a neuropsychological evaluation. Most colleges will only accept an evaluation that has been completed in the last 3 years. Be sure to check with the DSO as scheduling a neuropsychological evaluation can take months.

    Additionally, you can submit your Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or their 504 Plan if you had one in high school. Note: these are usually not accepted as primary forms of documentation at most colleges, and the accommodations do not always transfer exactly to college. These documents do provide a history of accommodations and information that can help the student and the DSO.

    If you have a psychological condition that may impact you at college, you should plan to get a letter from your psychiatrist or psychologist, or a psychological evaluation.

    All of the steps in the section above require you – the student – to be the primary driver of this process. While parents and guardians can provide assistance and support, the expectation is that the student will be able to engage with the DSO to ask questions related to services and supports for students with disabilities and request accommodations.

    Self-Advocacy in the Classroom

    Once you have gone through the college’s process to request accommodations and you have been approved for accommodations, you should plan to meet with each of your professors to discuss how accommodations will work for that specific class. Usually, the DSO will provide you with a letter that outlines the approved accommodations to share with your professor. This letter may be a hard copy or an email. You can:

    • Email the professor and set up a time to meet or meet with the professor during their office hours.
    • Write a script of what you want to say to the professor. For example, if you have an accommodation for flexibility in attendance, you should discuss with the professor that you may need to miss class occasionally, and it may not be predictable. Then you can discuss with the professor how you will let them know when you can’t make it. Usually, students will opt to email the professor if they know they are unable to attend due to a medical issue. You should also discuss with your professors how you can make up a missed class/lecture, and how you can get the information. Some professors may suggest the student meet with them during office hours.
    • After you meet with the professor, it’s a good idea to capture the conversation in an email and send it back to the professor so that everything that was discussed and agreed upon is in writing.

    Academic Support Services: Most colleges offer some educational support to all students, such as a writing center and tutoring services for specific subject areas. In some colleges, there are tutors trained in specific learning disabilities. Some colleges also offer academic support services where students can meet with a professional or attend workshops to discuss things like time management, study skills, college reading strategies and test preparation. These workshops can be offered in summer sessions. These may be fee-based services or workshops.

    Check out the course bulletin for specific class/workshop information. Use the college website for information on writing centers and tutoring services as well as any workshops offered during student orientation before the school year begins. Usually, you can find this type of information by searching “(insert college name) and academic support.”

    Tests: Most colleges have a test-taking center where students with accommodations can take their exams. Some colleges ask that students discuss this with the professor first to see if the professor is able to accommodate the student. Typically, if you need to take a test in the testing center, you will have to make a reservation anywhere from 7-3 days in advance to ensure a spot. This requires organization and planning. You should check with the DSO to determine their policy.

    Problematic Professors: Students may encounter professors who don’t understand their role in administering accommodations. If a professor tells you that you cannot use an accommodation in their class that has been approved by the DSO, you should contact the DSO and let them know. Professors cannot deny an accommodation that has been approved. However, there may be circumstances where the professor feels that the accommodation comprises the curricular goals of the course. In that case, the professor can raise that concern. If this occurs, you should involve the DSO so that the student, professor, and the DSO can work together to determine reasonable accommodations in that course.

    Role of the DSO: The role of the DSO is to facilitate the administration of reasonable accommodations. This means that the DSO evaluates student requests for accommodations, reviews documentation, and works with students to ensure that they are receiving accommodations. However, the DSO relies on students to self-advocate and report concerns if they arise. The DSO cannot assist students if they do not know there is an issue. It’s imperative that if a student experiences an issue in receiving an accommodation, or if they need an adjustment to current accommodations, that the student inform the DSO. The DSO can work with the student and the professor (as needed) to address the issue.

    Information you can trust! This article was produced by the Hydrocephalus Association, copyright 2021, in collaboration with Annie Tulkin, MS, of Accessible College.

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